A rumble Down Under, a halftime report, and numbers and lies
The Friday Pillar Post
Happy Friday friends,
And a happy feast of St. Cilian, the seventh century Irish missionary bishop who, like so many of his countrymen, made valiant and not always terribly successful efforts to civilize and Christianize the Hun.
Cilian’s assigned patch was Franconia, in what is now northern Bavaria. His preaching in Würzburg won over Gozbert, the local duke, to the Gospel.
Things went a little downhill from there, though, and he ended up emulating the great St. John the Baptist —
Gozbert was a convert, but his wife, Geilana, was unfazed by the saint’s announcement of Christ. And she turned definitely against him when he started talking, like the baptist before him, about the invalidity of the ducal marriage, since Geilana was the widow of Gozbert’s brother.
When the duke was away, she sent her soldiers after Cilian and his two companions, who beheaded all three of them in the Würzburg square, where they were preaching the Gospel.
No points for originality, then, but a perfect 10 for martyrdom.
The news around the world
Our top story this week is the final session of the plenary council underway in Australia.
As we previously reported, consultants and bishops met to discuss and vote on a range of motions aimed at rejuvenating the life of the Church in the country, and orienting it better towards being a missionary and prophetic witness in society.
On Wednesday there was some high drama as the council fathers rejected several motions, including one calling for women’s ordination to the diaconate. In response, some 60 delegates refused to resume their seats after the morning break and, so some participants told us, tears, finger-pointing, and a fair bit of ill feeling followed.
One participant told us that there was an obvious sense that the bishops had failed to deliver on expectations, and that “a script hadn’t been followed.”
“We are supposed to be here listening to the Spirit, that’s what everyone keeps saying,” they told us. “But it sure seems at least a few people arrived with a pretty clear sense of what the Spirit was supposed to say.”
That was Wednesday.
I’ve long been of the opinion that what happens with the plenary council in Australia will likely prove a much more reliable weathervane for the upcoming final meeting of the Synod on Synodality in Rome than will the German “synodal way,” which has attracted a lot more attention and media coverage.
Speaking of the German synodal way, organizers there also faced a backlash from local Church leaders this week over plans to extend the controversial process indefinitely — with a plan to create a powerful permanent “synodal council.”
The proposed “advisory and decision-making body,” consisting of both bishops and lay people, would mark a radical change in the structure of the Catholic Church in Germany. Its proponents claim it would ensure hierarchy and laity share responsibility for the Church’s future, even as German Catholics are deserting the Church in record numbers.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, who was - until about half an hour ago - considered a leading progressive voice in the Church, has said the proposal threatens to destroy the structure “that Christ wanted for his Church.”
By the way, while Kasper appears to be the conservative here, it’s not really him who has shifted, at least not much. It’s the Overton window that’s moved.
This week, we covered the story of a lawsuit against the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, which alleges that a woman was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a priest of the order, including accusations involving the confessional.
In this case, the priest says there was a consensual relationship, while the woman’s lawyer says a spiritual director and his directee can’t have a consensual relationship. That’s an issue that has cropped up a lot in recent years — and one for which there are ongoing, unresolved questions about how the Church handles assault allegations in the context of relationships between priests and adults under their pastoral care.
It’s an issue which some experts say has not been sufficiently addressed by canon law and Vatican policies.
It’s not an easy read. But the stories that matter often aren’t — and following them through to the end is something we are absolutely committed to, both as a work of journalism, and as a service to truth and healing for the Church.
The end of Roe v. Wade may have changed the national landscape on abortion, but it has definitely not ended the fight to ensure doctors, nurses, and other medical practitioners are able to work with freedom of conscience and faith across a whole range of issues.
Charlie Camosy talked this week with Louis Brown Jr., executive director of the Christus Medicus Foundation, a Catholic health ministry working to defend medical conscience rights and religious freedom.
Why does that matter? Well, Brown about sums it up:
“If we take away our moral and religious convictions from health care, if we end the rights of religious freedom and medical conscience, human dignity will collapse, the profit motive will reign as the primary driver of health care.
Persons who are materially poor, persons with special needs, racial minorities and immigrants will suffer unjust discrimination, denial of medical care, and the full force of the growing throwaway culture in the health care system.”
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Meanwhile, in Rome
The Vatican this week gave permission for the Congregation of Holy Cross to elect a lay brother to serve as the superior general of the clerical religious order, making them the first such group to be allowed to elect a layman under the rescript issued by Pope Francis in May.
Br. Paul Bednarczyk was elected by the CSC’s chapter general on July 1, having served as the congregation’s vicar general and first assistant for the last six years. He got the needed Vatican permission to take office within 48 hours, which suggests Rome was waiting for the call.
When Francis made the change in the law in May, it was widely reported as an accommodation for religious orders with an historical tradition of lay leadership. For their part, the CSCs noted in their announcement that “past general chapters of the congregation had petitioned the Vatican to allow a brother to serve as superior general, but those requests never received a response.”
Speaking of lay appointees, Pope Francis told Reuters this week that he intends to appoint two women to serve on the Dicastery for Bishops, the Vatican department which recommends episcopal appointments to the pope.
Most media coverage has focused on the prospect of two women having an input into the naming of new bishops. They will surely have some say. But given how the sausage actually gets made at the dicastery, I think their likely influence on individual appointments is likely to be limited, at best.
Of much more interest to me is how the new appointments, whoever they are, will figure in the dicastery’s work in handling complaints of negligence or abuse of office by bishops under the norms of Vos estis lux mundi.
While quite a few of those investigations have been conducted in dioceses in the U.S., the Vatican has been far from transparent about them. The prospect of two lay voices at the top table in Rome could — and I should stress could — be transformative.
In the same interview, Pope Francis also talked about the Vatican’s deal with China on the appointment of bishops, an accord about which I have been somewhat skeptical since it was first signed in 2018.
The pope conceded that the deal, which expires in October, is “not ideal” but he said it “is moving well,” and claimed it as an example of diplomacy as the art of the possible. So I took a long look at the reality of the situation for Catholics in China and Hong Kong, and at the Vatican’s position on the wider diplomatic field, and tried to assess what the deal has made possible.
Senior diplomats in the Vatican have told me that even within the Secretariat of State, it’s widely understood that the Vatican-China deal has been a “failure,” as one put it to me, and they wouldn’t have signed it in the first place if they’d been able to see where it’s got the Church today.
Many argued at the time, myself included, that this is where we would end up: worsening human rights abuses, a crackdown in Hong Kong, and the compromising of the Church’s moral witness in the face of Communist state brutality.
But wishing they’d never done the deal to begin with isn’t the same as being ready to walk away. Francis at least is clear he wants the deal renewed.
The Vatican financial trial is set to get back in action after a few weeks off, and as it approaches its one-year anniversary, we have definitely reached the end of the beginning.
The famous London building has been sold (for a loss of some 136 million euros, by my math) and the court has heard from all of the accused, or at least those who were willing to turn up in court. The stage is set for the prosecution (and defense) to start calling witnesses, and things could start to liven up considerably.
Now, my instinct in all of this is, obviously, to write a systematic treatment of the first year of the trial, all the ins-and-outs of the procedural objections, and a point by point update on the individual charges facing each and every one of the ten people facing charges, the evidence against them, and what hasn’t been touched by the trial so far.
But some people, I’m not naming names, are of the opinion that 5,000 words plus footnotes and documents attached as appendices might be heavier reading than many of you are looking for. So, in the style to which I have had to become accustomed, this week we bring you The Vatican Financial Trial Halftime Report™ to get you up to speed.
There is a lot of game still to be played in this trial, and if I had to put a score on it I’d mark it a draw so far. There is, after all, only so much headway you’re going to make in a corruption trial just talking to the accused — you’d expect they would have some kind of account to offer for their actions, however convincing it may sound.
The real test is when those accounts start being stacked up against what witnesses say they say, and heard, and said, and did. This is where we will find out if the prosecution are for real, or if they have shown up to the court with nothing but a proverbial cannoli in their hand.
Who the prosecutors call as witnesses will also tell you a lot about how free they are to make the strongest possible case, whatever it might mean for the Vatican’s general comfort level.
For example, Pope Francis hailed Cardinal George Pell, the former prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, as the “genius” behind Vatican financial reforms this week. Pell has some strong views on the trial, and what’s been said by Becciu during it, but will he be called as a witness?
It would also seem impossible to have a thorough airing of the facts about financial policy, to say nothing of possible crimes, at the Secretariat of State without hearing from Libero Milone, the Vatican’s auditor general — who was forced out of office by Cardinal Becciu for, well, auditing him.
Of course, as Becciu confirmed to the court a few months ago, it was Pope Francis who ultimately signed off on Milone’s ousting in 2017, and made a thinly veiled critique of him in his subsequent Advent address to the curia that year.
For myself, I have what I think are reasonable doubts about how much the pope was told about Milone and his work.
But given Becciu has mounted a concerted legal strategy of buck-passing to the holy father, there’s no question that an appearance by Milone in court could be embarrassing for the pope. Given that, and the potential importance of Milone’s testimony, whether he is called as a witness could be a crucial indicator of exactly how free the prosecution actually is to make their best case.
Numbers and lies
As those of you who listen to our podcast know, I’ve been boring on for weeks about the opportunity the pro-life movement has in the post Roe world, now that the false binary of supporting or opposing that decision is gone.
Any and every abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, and ending all legal protections for all abortions is and must remain the ultimate goal. But the truth is, and has always been, that while this is a minority position (for the moment) a large majority in this country favor some restrictions on abortion — and working to bring them in is a chance to save lives. This work is especially urgent in those states now setting themselves up as abortion havens and magnets.
It’s work that has been long stymied by the great con of the abortion lobby, which convinced swathes of people that to support any sort of legal access to abortion meant you had to support total and unfettered access to abortion in Roe. It’s why, for years, polls routinely showed majority support for Roe, despite also showing a majority against what Roe actually allowed.
Now that decision is gone, the real picture of America’s abortion views is breaking the surface. Consider this Harris poll for Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies, published this week, which found:
55% of Americans oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade
72% favor banning abortion after 15 weeks — which is what the Mississippi state law did in the case that resulted in the Supreme Court overturning Roe.
Almost half — 49% — of the country favor banning abortion from 6 weeks, which is when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected.
More than a third — 37% — would ban abortion entirely, with exceptions only for rape and incest.
Set that next to the absolute platform to enshrine in federal law the full scope of Roe — abortion through all nine months of pregnancy up to and including birth — which the abortion lobby demands and to which the current governing party in this country is committed.
So, you might ask, given how previous polls have shown that the more people are told about pregnancy and abortion, the stricter the restrictions they favor, how can life possibly fail to win in the end? Well, it’s simple, really.
The abortion lobby is, and always has been, aware that the more public awareness there is of the reality of abortion, the less support there is for it. The result has been a campaign of lies. I don’t like using that word. Not because it isn’t true, but because it sounds hyperbolic and shrill.
But there just isn’t another word for the malicious, deliberate, telling of known falsehoods with the intent to deceive. And this is what we’ve had.
The current campaign of lies seems to involve “celebrities,” like actress Hilarie Burton,1 lining up to talk about being treated for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies and insisting that these are “abortions” and will be banned in states with pro-life laws.
It is a deliberate lie to call these tragic circumstances abortions, and it’s a deliberate slander against the many pro-life women who have had to endure similar traumas which aims to paint them as hypocrites.
But lies are what the argument for abortion has always relied on. And they are powerful lies. The only answer remains truth — a truth which - the numbers show - converts hearts and minds, and can change laws.
That’s the mission.
See you next week,
Ms. Burton “starred,” if we are using that word, in something called “One Tree Hill,” which I had to google. It was a soap opera.